Privacy advocates call on FTC to probe Facebook's advertising plans

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Facebook said in June it would incorporate users' browsing history to connect users with more relevant advertising.

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Copyright 2014 Reuters
Copyright 2014 Reuters

Privacy advocates in the U.S. and abroad sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) July 29 to probe Facebook's use of users' web browsing history to serve ads. They believe it violates a previous agreement Facebook made with the FTC. Advocates include the Center for Digital Democracy and the European Consumer Organization.

Facebook has defended its change in ads, saying the level of control the social network gives users over the advertising they see exceeds industry standards.

While Facebook has always used its users' express actions, including "Likes," to serve targeted ads, this is the first time the company is using its users' web browsing history to serve ads. The targeted ads will appear on the desktop website and the company's mobile apps.

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Facebook alerted the FTC and Ireland's data protection regulator (the company's international headquarters is in Dublin) about the changes before they were announced in order to "keep them informed." Facebook in 2012 agreed to a 20-year FTC monitoring period as part of a privacy-related settlement.

As part of the targeted ad push, Facebook will now give users more granular controls over the kinds of ads they see. Users will be able to tweak their ad preferences to eliminate entire categories, such as electronics or sports, from ever appearing. Source: newsroom.fb.com

As part of the targeted ad push, Facebook will now give users more granular controls over the kinds of ads they see. Users will be able to tweak their ad preferences to eliminate entire categories, such as electronics or sports, from ever appearing.

"But, I mean, very few people are actually going to [edit their ad preferences]. So in reality I think that these companies with big ad networks are basically getting away with collecting huge amounts of information, likely way more information than people are sharing on Facebook about themselves." Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO

In a 2011 interview with Charlie Rose, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg criticized the use of users' web browsing history for advertising purposes.

A June 23 Gallup survey found that 62% of Americans say that social media has "little to no" influence over their spending habits. Only 5% of Americans believe social media has a "great deal" of influence over their spending habits.

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